The American Adventure Part 3 – MLG Anaheim Spring Championship

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The few days in-between the NASL Sunday Showdown and travelling to Anaheim for MLG were packed with three days of rest & relaxation – needed to grab some while I could! Luckily we had access to Brandi’s hastily-dubbed “eSports-mobile”…

Unfortunately despite our best efforts, upon seeing our specially designed automobile traffic still failed to part to let us speed through. Nonetheless, we managed to drive to the local shops to sample some of what California had to offer the relaxed tourist. While on the lookout for a spare shirt (I was one short for the coming weekend) we came across this particular gem.

We were also on a mission to try and find a place to view Rancho Cucamonga from. The place was of course predominantly flat but conveniently sandwiched in-between two decent sized mountains. For this reason, we chose a direction and drove! The path there was both treacherous and amusing – we decided to pick a mountain and simply drive, and eventually arrived at a dirt road which very clearly had two signs visible.

One said “Not for public access / restricted entry”.

The other was a paper plate (yes!) with writing on it in marker that said, “Mia’s Grad Party”.

Regrettably I did not think to take a photo of the latter sign, but we both agreed that if stopped by anyone we would say we were en-route to said party, and decided to drive on up. We passed several rather swish looking houses and decided Mia was also from a family of rather wealthy individuals, although unfortunately we could not figure out exactly which house/mansion Mia lived in so passed on the opportunity to knock on doors.

The path started alternating between road and dirt but eventually became more dirt than anything else. We kept going in the eSportsmobile until we decided the dirt road really didn’t lead anywhere else other than to the foot of a few more even more impressive looking mansions, and got out to take a look around.

The air was good, and the view was not bad! I can understand the appeal of living up there although would recommend a small amount of the money invested in the mansions up there (perhaps the cost of a pot plant in the corner?) to be diverted towards paving the roads up. Perhaps owning a 4×4 is a prerequisite, who knows. To give you an idea of some of the more interesting terrain, here’s a photo we took up the rest of the mountain towards the car, which kind of looks like a cool car commercial! :D

I have no idea what caused the three tracks (why not just 2?!) leading up to the car, by the way. I like to imagine there’s a giant dragon that left claw marks in the ground, Skyrim style.

In the evening there was also fun to be had going to various places to eat – in particular a funky buffet place where a competition of sorts started at the self-serve ice cream machine (naturally!). Unfortunately on this occasion, I lost quite comfortably.

MLG though was always knocking on the door, and on the Thursday before the event we went down to Anaheim for pre-event briefings and to get set up. We familiarised ourselves with the other premium stream casters as well, and we were all taught how to set up our streams and manage transitions during the tournament – we were not just casting our games but producing our own streams as well, with overlays and player stats that we would have to bring up on-the-fly.

None of the photos taken below were from Thursday or Friday before the event started, however – very strict security on what was allowed to be taken or posted before the official start time of the event. The wait was definitely worth it though, and MLG spared no expense on kitting out the tournament hall with the best decorations they could get their hands on.

Heart of the Swarm was also available to play on a select few computers which was super exciting – along with the presence of Day[9] going through Battle Reports on some of the new units! I only got a few minutes to mess around with some of the new Terran units as we were so busy back stage, but my first impressions were that the new units could add a nice new dynamic to the game while keeping the foundations that we all know and love unaltered.

I also had the wonderful opportunity to very briefly meet the voice of Jim Raynor himself, Robert Clotworthy, when he dropped by to visit! This was especially important as I was specifically instructed by friends in the U.K. that I needed to see Robert or risk being chastised for not doing so when I head back to Europe – so here we go! What a kind and wonderful professional he was as well – I hope to see him at more events in the future.

The games were starting thick and fast once the event got under way on the Friday – we were tucked away back-stage on the other side of the wall (well, a large curtain) the main casting studios were set-up in. I also happened to notice that near to where we picked up our staff meal tickets were a few shiny things that I’m sure a lot of pro-gamers were looking to get their hands on over the weekend.

The atmosphere was positively electric as the games seemed to be of a ridiculously high calibre no matter which direction we looked in. To give an example, the day started with Grubby facing off against MarineKing and only proceeded to get better.

A few of the advantages of working in close proximity to everyone else rather than being in a dedicated studio included us being able to have our phones and drinks etc. in plain sight on our desks (no webcams) and the atmosphere was positively electric – we could hear the audience roaring from outside whenever the main stage game came to a particularly exciting point, and the enthusiasm from the casters sat to our left and right as well.

One game I particularly enjoyed watching was Suppy going up against SeleCT in what turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining best-of-3 series that I cast with Gwin. You can check out that VoD here.

It is likely to be a wise idea not to head out and drink too much during the tournament, and we did heed this advice – unfortunately though it didn’t mean we got to sleep any earlier at all. In fact, at two o’clock in the morning one night a bunch of us decided to head on down to IHOP for a post-work celebration supper.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Gunrun that day, where my phone was able to locate him and spot where he was at all times due to his broadcast of a wireless network that featured the name “Gunrun”. We could therefore work out when he was going to the bar for a drink at the hotel and when he was returning with it, haha!

Running more or less purely on caffeine and adrenaline, the next day started off swimmingly indeed. I was able to catch up with Liquid’Sheth who I had the pleasure of meeting the previous week at NASL Sunday Showdown. We walked briefly over to one of the booths where I borrowed a pen for some signatures (to bring back to London for distribution at Barcraft! <3) and when I turned back around I noticed that Sheth had almost instantaneously developed a rather long tail of admirers! The Manner Bear truly is an inspiration and loved by everyone :-)

Saturday was particularly exciting as well because of the holy presence of KeSPA. The Brood War pros were making an excursion overseas, stepping away from their legions of Korean fans to show the foreigner scene exactly what top 0.00000001% mechanics were all about. Even just seeing their presence backstage, where they were looking over some of the Starcraft 2 games being played, sent all sorts of nerd chills up and down my spine.

I was very fortunate to be a part of eSports history where I got to cast the first round game between Calm and Bisu. It was on the one hand an extremely exciting series and on the other hand also very strange, because the strategies employed just felt like the SC2 metagame of six months ago, but performed with mechanics that would defy the even the vast majority of players!

In the end though, it was very fitting that the Ultimate Weapon himself would emerge to become champion of the KeSPA Invitational tournament. All of the players were very good sports and really enjoyed the hyped atmosphere that the thousands of Starcraft fans provided in the tournament hall (the cheer especially when Leta did his backflip was most impressive!) – however, the loudest was inevitably saved for Flash, who would calmly walk away with the spoils.

On Saturday evening we made our way towards the NOS party hosted about ten minutes walk away from the venue. The bar was very classy, the drinks were flowing and as you can see from the photo below I took special care in selecting my shirt for the evening!

Championship Sunday was a different affair – with the incredible high of the KeSPA Invitational tournament behind us, we had to calm down but in anticipation of an even greater peak where the MLG Champion would be crowned. While the games started getting super serious, my experience was also a little bit of the opposite in-between where the casters, having gotten to know each other rather well over the last two days, embarked on a hilarious journey of banter and audience interaction. Here is one example that we spoke about on-air (but said image only ever existed on preview screens, it was never live of course!). Talk about an imba matchup…

In one notable game as well, Axeltoss and I were co-casting an absolutely epic TvZ where the original scouting overlord from GoldenLighT was under fire from two marines for a while but managed to survive by ducking to the high ground near the Terran 4th base. We made a bet that the overlord would be alive at the end of the game (my prediction) or dead (Axel’s prediction). As it happened as well, our bet came to an amazingly stunning conclusion since the final battle of the game ventured up towards the 4th base location and the overlord in question was hovering directly over the field of battle!

GG was called and the overlord was dead – Axeltoss claimed victory but it was extremely narrow. Upon closer inspection of the replay and slowing it right down to pause at the exact moment Golden left the game, though, it became apparent that I had won the bet – by a grand total of about a quarter of a second. VICTORY! (Just.)

Towards the end of the day, the casters were becoming increasingly excited about the conclusion of the championship but also knowing that the premium streams would soon be shutting down to make way for the remainder of the games cast on main stage. When this happened, however, I had a fantastic opportunity to continue helping backstage instead of watching as a spectator. Puckett asked if I would be interested in manning the second observing PC in case a picture-in-picture moment was needed!

It was a real pleasure sitting and observing alongside Adebisi who was so good at his job it was second nature to him. I also discovered how much of a challenge it was to essentially be always looking at something that the other computer is NOT in case action happens to pop up in two places at once! My patience was rewarded when during an Alicia game a picture-in-picture of DTs attacking a peripheral base was used on-stream (so if you remember that game, that was me! hehe).

As you can see from the photo above as well, my view of the semi-finals and finals was a pretty sweet one, dare I say one of the best in the house.

Celebrating with dinner on the Sunday evening definitely seemed mandatory but truth be told everyone was exhausted and we had a very long and well deserved sleep on the Sunday night. It was a humbling experience being a part of such a huge and historic event in eSports (especially with the KeSPA Invitational) and I took away a lot of valuable experience working at international events. Maybe, just one day, you’ll see me somewhere else a bit more prominent – because I loved it and I’m definitely looking to constantly improve as well as go back for more!

One day, maybe one day! ;-)

Despite my autograph hunting over the weekend in the small moments of time I managed to duck away from the desk, none of what I got over the weekend was for myself – a mouse mat or two for friends and a bunch of stuff going to London Barcraft for distribution when I got home. However, at the end of the event I did decide to get one thing for myself, which I intend to eventually have on display somewhere prominent in my home to remind myself to always keep striving towards providing good entertainment and to further the eSports industry that I believe in.

There were lots of amazing players that I saw, casted and met at the event – but what I did was take one of the mouse mats that the Premium Stream casters were observing with during the tournament, and had one signed by all the main stage casters and presenters. Because, to me personally, being the bridge between the action and the audience is where my passion lies, and I was and still am very proud to be a part of that. Here’s to that, and hopefully many more events to come.

The final blog post update of my trip to the United States will be my next instalment where I was at the Gigabyte eSports LAN in my last weekend before flying back to London. Stay tuned! <3

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